Global encounter of WYD challenges nationalism, walls

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The joyous harmony of people coming together from so many different nations for World Youth Day stands in sharp contrast to today’s “sad” situation of confrontational nationalist feelings, Pope Francis said.
“It is a sign that young Christians are the leaven for peace in the world,” he said at his general audience Jan. 30 in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.
The pope dedicated his weekly reflection to his trip to Panama Jan. 23-27 to celebrate World Youth Day.
The hundreds of thousands of young people from five continents who attended the events “formed a great symphony of faces and languages,” he said.
“To see all the flags flying together, fluttering in the hands of young people, happy to encounter each other is a prophetic sign, a sign (that goes) against the tide of today’s sad tendency toward confrontational nationalist sentiments that erect walls, that close themselves off from universality, from the encounter among peoples,” he said.
He praised the enthusiasm and prayerful reverence young people showed at the many events and recalled the dedication he saw on the faces of many who declared themselves open to God’s will and ready serve the Lord.
“As long as there are new generations able to say, ‘Here I am’ to God, the world will have a future,” he said.
Another image that struck him during the trip, he said, was seeing so many mothers and fathers proudly holding up their children as he passed by in the popemobile.
They showed off their children “as if to say, ‘Here is my pride, here is my future,’” he said.
“How much dignity is in this gesture and how eloquent (given) the demographic winter we are living in Europe,” the pope said. “The pride of those families is the children; children are security for the future. A demographic winter without children is hard.”
Young people are called to live the Gospel today “because young people are not ‘the tomorrow,’ not ‘in the meantime,’ but they are the ‘today’ of the church and the world,” he said.
Pope Francis also urged people to pray the Way of the Cross, saying it is “the school of Christian life” where one learns about a love that is “patient, silent, concrete.”
He then said he wanted to share a secret with everyone and pulled out a small box, showing it to the crowd, explaining it was a pocket-sized kit for praying the Way of the Cross.
He said he loved following the Via Crucis “because it is following Jesus with Mary on the way of the cross where he gave his life for us, for our redemption.”
“When I have time,” he said, he takes the prayer kit out and prays, and he urged others to do the same.

Don’t be afraid to ask for things from God in prayer

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN (CNS) – No one should be afraid to turn to God with prayer, especially in times of great doubt, suffering and need, Pope Francis said.
Jesus does not want people to become numb to life’s problems and “extinguish” those things that make them human when they pray, the pope said Dec. 12 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.
“He does not want us to smother our questions and requests, learning to put up with everything. Instead, he wants every pain, every apprehension to rise up to heaven and become a dialogue” with God, the father, he said.
Continuing a new series of audience talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the simplicity of the prayer and the way it addresses God with intimate familiarity.
With this prayer, Jesus shows an “audacious” way to address God immediately as “our Father” without any pomp and “preambles,” the pope said.
“He doesn’t say to turn to God calling him ‘O, the All-Powerful’ or ‘O, the One on high,’ or ‘O, You who are so far from us and I am the wretched one ….’”  
“No. He doesn’t say that, but simply (uses) the word, ‘Father,’ with great simplicity, like children who turn to their daddy. This word, ‘Father,’ expresses intimacy, filial trust,” he said.
The prayer invites people to pray in a way that “lets all the barriers of subjection and fear fall away,” he added.
While the Our Father is rooted in “the concrete reality” of every human being, prayer, in essence, begins with life itself.
“Our first prayer, in a certain way, was the first wail that came with our first breath”, and it signals every human being’s destiny: “our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our constant search for happiness.”
Prayer is found wherever there is a deep hunger, longing, struggle and the question, “why?” Pope Francis said.
“Jesus does not want to extinguish (what is) human, he does not want to anesthetize” the person in prayer, he said. Jesus understands that having faith is being able to “cry out.”
“We all should be like Bartimaeus in the Gospel,” he said. This blind man in Jericho kept crying out to the Lord for help even though everyone around him told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus, who – they felt – ought not be disturbed because he was so busy.
Bartimaeus did not listen and only cried out louder “with holy insistence,” the pope said. Jesus listened to his plea and told him his faith is what saved him.
The pope said this shows how the cry for healing is an essential part of salvation, because it shows the person has faith and hope and is “free from the desperation of those who do not believe there is a way out of so many unbearable situations.”
“We can tell him everything, even those things in our life that are distorted and beyond comprehension. He promised us that he would always be with us,” he said.
When greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope greeted all those from Mexico and Latin America, noting that Dec. 12 marked the feast “of our patroness,” Our Lady of Guadalupe. He asked that she help people surrender themselves to God’s love and to place all of their hope in him.
Before the audience, the pope blew out a few candles on a birthday cake a visitor had prepared for him. The pope will celebrate his 82nd birthday Dec. 17.
Greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope met with a delegation from Panama, representing the upcoming World Youth Day events in January, and he greeted a delegation of Austrian members of parliament who were marking the 200th anniversary of the song “Silent Night,” whose melody was composed by an Austrian school teacher.
The pope said that “with its profound simplicity, this song helps us understand the event of that holy night. Jesus, the savior, born in Bethlehem, reveals to us the love of God the father.”

Hope for synod: boldness, honesty

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis asked bishops to be bold, honest, open-minded, charitable and, especially, prayerful as they begin a three-week meeting on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.”
While many young people think no older person has anything useful to teach them for living today, the pope said, the age of the bishops, combined with clericalism, can lead “us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything.”
“Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the church,” Pope Francis said Oct. 3 at the synod’s first working session. “We must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.”
The pope formally welcomed 267 bishops and priests as voting members of the synod, eight fraternal delegates from other Christian churches and another 72 young adults, members of religious orders and lay men and women observers and experts at the synod, which will meet through Oct. 28.
He also thanked the thousands of young people who responded to a Vatican questionnaire, participated in a presynod meeting in March or spoke to their bishops about their concerns. With the gift of their time and energy, he said, they “wagered that it is worth the effort to feel part of the church or to enter into dialogue with her.”
They showed that, at least on some level, they believe the church can be a mother, teacher, home and family to them, he said. And they are asserting that “despite human weaknesses and difficulties,” they believe the church is “capable of radiating and conveying Christ’s timeless message.”
“Our responsibility here at the synod,” the pope said, “is not to undermine them, but rather to show that they are right to wager: It truly is worth the effort, it is not a waste of time!”
Pope Francis began the synod with an invitation that every participant “speak with courage and frankness” because “only dialogue can help us grow.”
But he also asked participants to be on guard against “useless chatter, rumors, conjectures or prejudices” and to be humble enough to listen to others.
Many of the synod participants arrived in Rome with the text of the three-minute speech they intended to give, but the pope asked them “to feel free to consider what you have prepared as a provisional draft open to any additions and changes that the synod journey may suggest to each of you.”
A willingness to “change our convictions and positions,” he said, is “a sign of great human and spiritual maturity.”
The synod is designed to be an “exercise in discernment,” the pope told them. “Discernment is not an advertising slogan, it is not an organizational technique or a fad of this pontificate, but an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith.”
Discernment “is based on the conviction that God is at work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and who speak to me,” he said. It requires listening and prayer, which is why the pope has added a rule that after every five speeches there will be a three-minute pause for silent reflection and prayer.
Listening to the Spirit, listening to God in prayer and listening to the hopes and dreams of young people are part of the church’s mission, the pope said. The preparatory process for the synod “highlighted a church that needs to listen, including to those young people who often do not feel understood by the church” or feel they “are not accepted for who they really are, and are sometimes even rejected.”
Listening to each other, especially young people and bishops listening to each other, he said, is the only way the synod can come to any helpful suggestions for leading more young people to the faith or for strengthening the faith of young people involved in church life.
“Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate the abilities of young people and (should) not judge them negatively,” he said. “I once read that the first mention of this fact dates back to 3,000 B.C. and was discovered on a clay pot in ancient Babylon, where it is written that young people are immoral and incapable of saving their people’s culture.”

The path to holiness isn’t for the lazy, pope tells altar servers

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Christ’s commandment to love God and neighbor is a path trodden by those who have the desire to become saints, Pope Francis told thousands of altar servers from around the world.
“Yes, it does take effort to keep doing good and to become saints,” the pope told the young people July 31. “You know that the path to holiness isn’t for the lazy, it requires effort.”
The pope presided over an evening meeting and prayer service with some 60,000 altar servers making an international pilgrimage to Rome. The majority of young men and women came from Germany, but there also were pilgrims from Italy, France, Austria, the United States and other countries.
After circling St. Peter’s Square in his popemobile, Pope Francis smiled brightly as Bishop Ladislav Nemet of Zrenjanin, Serbia, waved his arms and urged the young men and women to welcome the pope with cheers and applause. Bishop Nemet is president of Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium, the association of altar servers that hosted the meeting along with the German bishops’ conference.
Before the event, the Vatican fire department used hoses to spray water over the seats in the blistering Rome sun in an effort to cool them down. The firefighters stayed once the pilgrims were allowed into the square, creating cooling showers for the much-needed relief of the young people.
“You are very courageous to be here since 12 p.m. in this heat!” the pope told the young people before responding to questions posed by servers from Luxembourg, Portugal, Antigua and Barbuda, Germany and Serbia.
One server told Pope Francis that like many of his fellow altar servers, he was saddened “to see how few of our own age group come to Mass” or participate in parish life. “How can we – and our communities – reach out to these people and bring them back to Christ and to the family of the church?” he asked.
The pope said that even in their youth, altar servers can be apostles and draw others to Christ “if you are full of enthusiasm for him, if you have encountered him, if you have come to know him personally and been ‘won over’ by him.”
“There is no need for lots of words,” the pope said. “More important are your actions, your closeness, your desire to serve. Young people – and everyone else for that matter – need friends who can give a good example, who are ready to act without expecting anything in return.” When asked how altar servers can contribute to peace “in our families, in our countries and in the world,” the pope said that “making peace begins with little things” such as trying to reconcile after a quarrel or asking in every situation, “What would Jesus do in my place?” “If we can do this, if we really put it into practice, we will bring Christ’s peace to our everyday lives. Then we will be peacemakers and channels of God’s peace,” he said. A Serbian altar server asked, “How can we translate our service, in daily life, into concrete works of charity and in a path toward holiness?”
Pope Francis encouraged them to practice the works of mercy, which “are demanding yet within the reach of all.”
“It makes no difference whether it is a friend or a stranger, a countryman or a foreigner,” the pope said. “Believe me, by doing this, you can become real saints, men and women who transform the world by living the love of Christ.”
Before continuing with the prayer service, Bishop Nemet thanked the pope for his words. However, the pope wanted to make sure the altar servers were happy.
“Ask them if they feel encouraged after I answered their questions,” the pope told Bishop Nemet.
After the bishop relayed the pope’s question, the 60,000 young servers erupted in cheers and applause.
Recalling the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Francis said the Jesuit founder “discovered the heart and meaning of life itself” through seeking the glory of God and not his own glory.
“Let us imitate the saints,” the pope told the young people. “Let everything we do be for God’s glory and the salvation of our brothers and sisters.”

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Pope Francis advances sainthood causes of young teens

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis issued decrees advancing the sainthood causes of four candidates, including two young teenagers who heroically lived the Christian virtues.

Alexia Gonzalez Barros, a teen who offered her sufferings from a malignant tumor for the church, has been declared venerable. The Vatican issued the decree advancing her sainthood cause July 5. Gonzalez is pictured with Paddy on Dec. 24, 1984. (CNS photo/courtesy Sainthood Cause of Alexia Gonzalez Barros)

At a meeting July 5 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, the pope signed a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Alexia Gonzalez Barros, who offered her sufferings from a malignant tumor for the church.
Gonzalez was born in Madrid in 1971. Her parents were members of Opus Dei and passed on their faith to their five children. She made her first Communion in Rome and the following day attended the weekly general audience May 9, 1979.
She ran up to St. John Paul II as he greeted pilgrims and received a blessing and a kiss from the pope.
Several years later, her life dramatically changed when doctors discovered a tumor that gradually paralyzed her. Throughout her illness, she offered her sufferings for the church and the pope and would often pray, “Jesus, I want to feel better, I want to be healed; but if you do not want that, I want what you want.”
She died Dec. 5, 1985, at the age of 14.

Carlo Acutis, who was born in 1991 in London and died in 2006 in Monza, Italy, has been declared venerable. The Vatican issued the decree advancing his sainthood cause July 5. (CNS photo/courtesy Sainthood Cause of Carlo Acutis)

Pope Francis also recognized the heroic virtues of Carlo Acutis, a young teen who used his computer skills to catalogue eucharistic miracles around the world before his death at the age of 15 due to leukemia.
According to the website of his canonization process, Acutis placed the Eucharist “at the center of his life and called it ‘my highway to heaven.’”
Before his death in 2006, Acutis offered his sufferings for Pope Benedict XVI and for the church.
The other decrees signed by the pope recognized the heroic virtues of:
– Pietro Di Vitale, an Italian layman and a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. He was born in Sicily in 1916 and died in 1940.
– Giorgio La Pira, the former mayor of Florence and a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. He was an advocate for peace during the Cold War and despite his stature in the international community, he lived in a small cell in the Basilica of St. Mark in Florence. He died in 1977.
Recognizing the heroic virtues of a person is one of the first formal steps toward canonization, or sainthood. In most cases, a miracle attributed to that person’s intercession is needed for beatification, the next step toward sainthood.

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)